R. K. Narayan | Biography | Malgudi Days Writer: R. K. Narayan, full name Rasipuram Krishnaswami Iyer Narayanaswami was an Indian writer known for his set of works based on the fictional town known as Malgudi. Along with Mulk Raj Anand and Raja Rao, Narayan was a leading author of early Indian literature in the English language. Narayan was born in a Tamil Brahmin family on October 10, 1906, in Madras. Growing up, he spent a huge part of his childhood under the love and care of his maternal grandmother, as his father’s occupation involved frequent transfers. During this period, Narayan was friends with a monkey and a peacock.
Under the guidance of his grandmother, he studied in a few Christian schools. He was an avid reader of popular writers including Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, and more. At twelve, he participated in a pro-independence march and got reprimanded as his family was apolitical and considered all government wicked.
It took Narayan four years to obtain a bachelor’s degree from Maharaja College of Mysore. A friend convinced him that getting a Master’s would ruin his interest in literature. So, he held a job as a school teacher for a short period. The experience in school made him realize that he can only thrive in the career of writing. He decided to stay at home and start writing novels. Narayan’s first published work was Development of Maritime Laws of 17th-Century England, a book review. He also began writing for English magazines and newspapers.
In 1933, while on a vacation at their sister’s place Narayan met and fell in love with a 15-year-old girl named Rajam. Despite financial and astrological obstacles, Narayan convinced her guardian and married her. After his marriage, he became a reporter for The Justice, a Madras-based newspaper.
He wrote his first novel Swami and Friends in 1930, but it was rejected by several publishers. It was in this book that he created the fictional town of Malgudi. Malgudi is a reflection of the social sphere of India without the limitations imposed by the colonials. Narayan has sent the script to a friend in Oxford, who showed this to The End of an Affair writer Graham Greene. It was with his support the book was finally published in 1935.
Graham Greene was his friend and mentor, quite instrumental in helping him with publishers for his first four books including the semi-autobiographical trilogy (Swami and Friends, The Bachelor of Arts, and the English Teacher). His works highlight the social context and daily life of his characters. R. K. Narayan has been compared to William Faulkner who also developed a fictional town and explored the ordinary life of his characters.
His next published work was The Bachelor of Arts (1937), hugely inspired by his college experience. It highlights the theme of a rebellious adolescent transforming into a well-adjusted adult. Due to Greene’s recommendation it was published by several other publishers. Narayan’s third work The Dark Room was about domestic disharmony, patriarchal and misogynistic men, and how that affects women and their generation.
His wife Rajam died in 1939 of typhoid. Narayan was unable to move on from this grief and was in depression for a long time. After this, he began to write another novel, The English Teacher. Like, Swami and Friends and The Bachelor of Arts this book was also autobiographical, and unintentionally completes the thematic trilogy. In 1942, Narayan published his first short story collection called Malgudi Days, and later that in 1945, he published The English Teacher.
Narayan started his publishing company named Indian Thought Publication. The publishing company is still as active and is managed by Narayan’s granddaughter. Soon enough, due to a good amount of devoted readers from New York to Moscow, his books started selling well. In 1953 he built his own house on the outskirts of Mysore and wrote for Miss Malini for the Gemini Studios.
In 1956 while his visit to the United States he wrote The Guide. During his stay in America, he maintained his habit of journaling which later serve as his other book My Dateless Diary. It is during this time he met Graham Greene for the first and only time. The Guide was published after his return and won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1960. His final book Grandmother’s Tale is about his great grand-mother who travelled a lot far and wide in search of her husband who ran away shortly after marriage. Some of his other notable works are The Man-Eater of Malgudi, The Vendor of Sweets, A Tiger for Malgudi, Talkative Man, Gods, Demons and Others, Waiting for the Mahatma, and more. Narayan was also elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He won AC Benson Medal from the Royal Society of Literature.
In May 2001, he was hospitalized. A few hours before Narayan was to be put on ventilation, he was willing to write his next novel, a tale about his grandfather. Narayan was always selective about his notebooks so he asked N. Ram to get him one. But, he never got better and never started that work. He died at the age of 94 in Chennai on 13 May 2001.
Also Read: 10 Best Books by R. K. Narayan